The Northville Review
an online literary journal
Emulsion

Calvin Mills

“Something’s wrong with me. I think I might be happy,” he said.

“It’s almost like time has stopped,” she said.

They lay still for a moment. He was quiet because he was trying to detect whether or not it was true, about time stopping. She was quiet to emphasize her point. Then she took his chin in her hand and turned his face to the window, “The air is absolutely dead. There’s not a single leaf moving.”

He studied both apple trees and the pear tree outside the window. Every leaf on every branch was as still as a photograph.

“It’s been storming for days,” he said. “But there’s not a thing happening out there now.”

“No, there isn’t.” She tucked her hair behind her ear and licked her bottom lip. “You said something weird in your sleep again,” she said.

“What?”

“It was pretty funny.”

“Oh yeah?” he said.

“Yeah. I wonder what you were dreaming about.”

“I don’t know. Tell me what I said. Maybe it’ll ring a bell.”

“First you mumbled–that’s what woke me up. Then you moved around–rolled over onto your side I think–and you said, ‘He’s a good boy.’”

“He’s a good boy?”

“Yeah.”

“Weird,” he said.

“Yeah.” She laughed again and touched his temple. “Any bells ringing in there?”

“Nope,” he said. He envied her easy laughter. He searched his memory for something that would help the phrase make sense. All he could find was a fragment, a near tangible bit of something, but it wasn’t funny, and it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the dream–it was a memory.

He said, “Let’s not talk for a while.” He was hoping to convince himself not to ask what he suddenly, inexplicably felt compelled to ask her.

She looked at him without saying anything.

“Let’s not talk for a while, and I’ll try hard to remember my dream,” he said.

“Okay.” She lifted one leg and draped it over his. She wiggled a comfortable spot into her pillow until it cradled her head.

A few minutes passed. His eyes were closed. She stared at the textured ceiling, picking out faces amongst the bumps. She’d find a simple face, two eyes and a nose, or a profile, a nose and a chin–then she’d close her eyes and open them again, trying to find the same face amongst the thousands of little bumps.

After a while he opened his eyes and touched his forehead. “There’s nothing happening in here either.” He smiled.

“I know what you mean,” she said. “You can’t remember when you try too hard. It’s better if you don’t try. Sometimes things just occur to you out of the blue.”

He thought about what she said. He was quiet for a moment. Then, almost whispering, he said the thing he didn’t want to put into words, but couldn’t help saying, “Do you remember when we went to Mardi Gras, and I left to get us beers? Then, when I came back, you had all those beads, and you told me a guy gave them to you for a kiss on the cheek?”

She frowned. Her expression didn’t matter, because he wasn’t looking at her. He was staring out the window.

“I remember,” she said.

“That’s not really what happened, is it?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Didn’t we wear that out on the drive home?”

“I don’t think we could go so far as to say we wore it out, if you never bothered to tell me what really happened,” he said.

She raised her leg. She bent forward and grabbed the sheet, pulling it over her toes, then her thighs, and her stomach. She kept pulling the sheet until her breasts disappeared. Then her neck was gone, her face, and her hair. She could have closed her eyes, but she didn’t. She stared instead, at the inside of the sheet. It was dark in her tent, but not as dark as she wanted it to be. Gray light leaked though the worn cotton weave.

She felt the bed rise when he stood up. Then she heard him dressing. His keys clinked when he lifted them.

She listened to the sounds he made, and to her own breathing, which seemed rather loud beneath the sheet. She heard him approaching but didn’t know what to do or say.

He grasped a corner of the sheet and lifted it, exposing her pale body to the bright light from the window. She squinted at him, and her pupils constricted. She closed her eyes, but his silhouette remained, as if it were momentarily burned onto the inside of her eyelids—only, this image was a photographic negative. His teeth and the whites of his eyes were dark, his pupils and his dark hair, white.

If she had been clutching the sheet, he wouldn’t have been able to lift it. He wouldn’t have been able to see all of her at once before dropping the sheet again. But she wasn’t holding on. Her hands lay empty at her sides.

About the author

Calvin Mills was raised behind the Redwood Curtain, in Eureka, California. He spent a decade in Little Rock, Arkansas where he survived an F-3 tornado in 1999. He currently lives in Port Angeles, Washington: the last town Raymond Carver called home.